Friday, December 30, 2011

Antarctica Day 4: Cuverville Island – Almirante Brown Station / Paradise Bay (Continental landing), navigation of the Gerlache Strait

“We live in a world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”
--- Jawaharlal Nehru

From our itinerary: The Antarctic Peninsula’s remarkable history will provide you with a type of excitement often only associated with the early explorers. You will have plenty of time to explore its amazing scenery, a pristine wilderness of snow, ice, mountains and waterways, and an incredible wide variety of wildlife. Apart from penguins and seabirds you are very likely to see Weddell, Crabeater and leopard seals as well as Mince, killer (orca) and humpback whales at close range.

Cuverville Island was named by De Gerlache after a vice admiral in the French navy who helped to provision his expedition. It stands like a stopper in the northern end of the Errenra Channel. Five thousand pairs of Gentoo penguins breed on the long shingly beach. The paths that the birds have carved through the snow from the rookeries about the beach look like a complex freeway system or a demonic bobsled track. Grubby penguins heading down to the beach to bath and fish are met by clean, plumb, well fed birds returning from the sea.

I have now been on all 7 Continents
 I wrote this at 11:20 pm and it is still daylight. It looks like 6 pm out the boat window. I am now in 24 hour daylight and this is crazy new for me.
Today was a brilliant day filled with so much. After breakfast we worked out way to Cuverville Island. The ship’s crew was bouncing off the walls with excitement as it was sunny and clear blue skies. They said they have not see it like this for months so again karma is on our side.  However I still believe Mother Nature is going to kick our ass somewhere along the way.

When I woke up, walked to the bar and grabbed coffee I looked out the window. This was Antarctica. We were surrounded by high mountains dripping with ice blue glaciers, Icebergs of all sizes and shapes everywhere in the channel and penguins, lots and lots of penguins. In any direction there was another perfect picture. We organized for the zodiacs to take us to Cuverville and off we went. Zipping through icebergs and clear blue water we hit the beach to the squawk and smell of our friends the penguins, the funny little bastards. The goal of this landing was the trek up to the top of the island to enjoy the 360 panoramic views. Usually not an issue but climbing with Wellies proved a bit challenging but not outrageous.  The sun was shining and by 10 minutes into the 30 minute climb I started shedding clothes, gloves and my hat. I stopped every 5 minutes as I do to have a look and holy crap, picture perfect Antarctica. Reaching the top was just another exercise in photo insanity. Looking left, right, up, down, East or west each direction was more majestic then the previous. Now comes the fun part. It was time to pose for photo on top of a mountain without a shirt in Antarctica. It was not as bad as it sounds. The sun was out and we were in a wind protected bay and it was warm....but still cool to be shirtless in Antarctica.

I climbed down with everyone and next up was an hour zodiac trip in and around the icebergs.  It’s unfair how something could be so naturally beautiful. The hues of blue are indescribable and pictures are never going to do them any justice. To have the ability to get so close to glaciers and realize how magnificent they are, even the smaller ones makes you fall in love with the ice faster than you can imagine.  This is the real deal.

Back on board while drinking some pretty damn good pea soup with coriander the call came out, Humpbacks on the port bow. A little too far for my camera to take anything decent I just enjoyed them. Walking back inside another call came over the loudspeaker. There are Minke whales breaching on the right side of the boat. I grabbed a beer, when on deck and just enjoyed being in Antarctica. Nothing is EVER going to top this place.

Paradise Bay is a beautiful place where an Argentinean summer station (Brown Station) is located on a point of land of the Antarctic Peninsula with steep sea-cliffs on one side and the sheer face of a tidewater glacier on the Eastern side. There is a small Gentoo rookery site among the buildings of the station. Skontorp is a nearby cove with gorgeous Ice formations.

 Paradise bay has that name for a reason, because it’s an Antarctic Paradise. This was yet another bay of crazy glaciers, icebergs, penguins and an abandoned whaling station. Hell people actually lived out here. A short hike up to the highest peak produced more insane pictures and views. We did have the opportunity to slide down on our butt (Villarrica revisited) and that was good fun. This trip was followed by 90 minutes in the zodiac into the bay itself. As one elderly lady on the trip described it “I have been to heaven and have returned to talk about it”

I am repeating myself, end of the world glaciers, magnificent icebergs and the ability to get up close and personal. However I was getting cold as was everyone else. We had gone from warm and sunny to cloudy and freaking as cold in a span of about 6 hours. Stopping to take a few photos of some Crabeater seals we put the zodiac in high gear and headed back to the Ushuaia.

A hot shower and a few beers and I was right as rain. The strangest thing has been happening on this ship. When someone sees something new or interesting they just yell and let everyone know. It’s actually pretty funny and when we are on deck taking the photos is usually with lots of laughs. That being said I did not think Antarctica could wow me anymore in one day.

I was wrong. Across the bay the oddest thing appeared. A deep blue fog crept over the mountains. I mean a Blue Fog, really? Come on Mother Nature stop messing with me. I guess the explanation is that the sun’s rays hit the ice but the fog prevents it from going back so the blue reflection just hovers in the fog.  It seriously looked photoshopped on the horizon

We had a review of the day and about tomorrow.  There is a good chance we will be blocked from our destination because of sea ice. Now that’s more like it! We parked our asses in Paradise bay for the night, admired the odd blue fog that was now everywhere and talked about the day.

“Ladies and Gentleman, across the stern you will see two Humpback whales moving slowly through the bay”. Come on this is sensory overload. Time for another beer!

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